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5 Predictions for Talent Development in 2018

Change is always constant, but the past year or so seemed to bring an unprecedented level of disruptive change. At times I felt like a human app, with life pushing a continuous stream of updates. Despite the occasional discomfort, I’m grateful for the progress and look forward to the changes ahead. 

I recently attended a keynote session with Peter Diamandis, a futurist who shared several mind-blowing projections. According to Diamandis, in just a few years most vehicles will be fully autonomous and, by 2025, car ownership will become obsolete. If you’ve seen any of my videos on YouTube, you know how much I love to drive. While I have no use for driverless cars, imagining the future caused me to ponder other exciting changes, such as what talent development will look like by 2025. Since I’m not a futurist, I decided to release my projections one year at a time. Here’s what I predict for 2018. 

People will refuse to pay for information. This will have a profound impact on open enrollment conferences and seminars. A generation ago, people exchanged time and money for information. Today, however, most of what people want and need to know is readily available for free. Demand, therefore, will shift from informational gatherings to transformational experiences. People will still come, but they’ll expect way more than a twentieth century lecture. In the new knowledge economy, people will not pay or travel to hear boring experts impart rote information. They will, however, invest time and significant money on transformational experiences that engage them, integrate fresh perspectives with timeless principles, and show them how to apply essential, transformational life skills. Information downloads are out. Engagement, integration, and application are in. 

Employers will make retention a key performance indicator for talent development. Leaders have always focused on direct labor and productivity when calculating the return-on-investment of a learning event or program. But during the recession, some forgot to account for the intangible benefits of talent development so they underinvested in it to cut costs. Despite not being developed, employees were reluctant to quit during the recession because jobs were few and candidates were plentiful. Now that the economy is in full recovery mode, companies are once again seeking creative ways to retain talent. Next year, unemployment is expected to continue falling, and the number of unfilled jobs is projected to keep rising. In the new talent economy of 2018, employers will rely on talent development to develop and upskill high-potential employees—not only to meet increasing performance demands, but to drive retention. 

Companies will develop people who don’t even work for them. It used to be that there were two distinct workforces in many companies. The majority group consisted of full-time employees who received extensive orientation and on-the-job training in exchange for a company uniform or name tag. The other group was a revolving door of outsourced workers who received little or no training from the client company. The prevalent thinking was that, since they were few in numbers and temporary, training them was unnecessary. Today, many companies employ large numbers of contract employees for extended periods of time. By next year, nearly a third of the U.S. labor force will consist of contract workers, many of whom are fully imbedded and virtually indiscernible from company employees. Talent development will need to fully serve this growing population of freelance employees to ensure they perform as well as employees on the company payroll. And talent development will likely hire contract trainers to do so. 


Talent development will expand its focus to include transferable life skills. The lines between work and life are blurred, if not erased. Gen Y and Gen Z employees lead fully integrated lives in which their work complements their lifestyle, and vice versa. Theirs is a holistic view of life, not a compartmentalized one. Many don’t have a separate Monday through Friday wardrobe or 9 to 5 persona. As a result, younger employees expect employers to take a “whole person” approach to talent development. This expectation will greatly influence the type of content provided by in-house talent development teams, as well as the seminars and conference sessions offered by professional associations. Talent developers will move beyond traditional job skills and focus more on social skills, emotional intelligence, and life skills to help younger employees succeed at work and at home. 

Organizations will prioritize high-potential emerging leaders. Next year, a wave of Generation Z employees will enter the workforce. By 2020, Gen Y will represent a majority of the workforce, and Gen Xers will ascend to leadership positions once held almost exclusively by Baby Boomers. In 2018, to prepare for this seismic shift, talent development teams will increase their focus on building the leadership competencies of young employees. Leadership development and mentorship programs once reserved for those already in leadership positions will be expanded to equip and retain a pipeline of emerging leaders. Those who succeed will help their organizations survive the largest generational exodus of institutional knowledge in modern times. Those who neglect to build a competent bench will regret it. 

Next year promises to be another exciting one for talent development. The roles of work, worker, and workplace will continue to evolve at an unprecedented pace. And while some may disagree with my predictions and others may have projections of their own, change is inevitable. Are you ready? Please use the comment space below to share your talent development predictions.

© 2017 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
As a professional consultant, trainer, and public speaker, ASTD Links Field Editor Don Levonius draws on more than 15 years of leadership experience. He has directed talent development for 23 Disney hotels, 200 retail and dining locations, a large transportation system, a security division, an international college internship program, and a global professional association. Today, Levonius is principal consultant with Victory Performance Consulting, where he provides OD and talent development solutions that help clients do what they do best, only better. He holds a master’s degree in HR development and a second master’s degree in business and organizational security management.
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